Christopher Andrew

Andrew, Christopher. The Defence of the Realm: The Authorised History of MI5. London: Allen Lane, 2009. Defend the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5. New York: Knopf, 2009.

Clark comment: It did not take 100 years to read this tome; it just seemed like it at times. When I finally hit page 769 and "Section F: After the Cold War," there was finally a feeling of, "I may make it after all." At the end, the trip was worth the effort. The very existence of Defend the Realm would have been difficult to imagine just a decade ago. Yet, here it is, written by an accomplished historian rather than an in-house draftee with a penchant for organizational detail. MI5's critics may well argue that the author has been too forgiving in his assessments of the agency's respone to the tendency of politicians (of all parties) to seek subversion among their opponents, but the attitudes and actions depicted by Andrew have a solid ring of truth to them. Missteps and misjudgments are not ignored, but rather put into their relevant context. The fact that, in the end, MI5 is presented in essentially a positive light runs counter to what seems the mainstream desire to sell books through controversy and criticism (valid or not) of all things related to intelligence. However, the scholarship in Defend the Realm is of such high quality that the author's judgments will be extremely difficult to attack objectively. No, we cannot pore over all of his sources looking for loopholes or misdirections, but Andrew's body of work is such that he has earned a substantial amount of trust in the areas that are not open to perusal by everyone.

Hastings, Sunday Times (London), 11 Oct. 2009, says that this work is "weighty, measured and compelling." The author "demolishes the allegations of 'Spycatcher' Wright and other conspiracy theorists.... With this book, the author has done a formidably good job for both the service and the public interest. He does not flinch from acknowledging the mavericks and outright lunatics who find their way into MI5. But most of its officers are bright, sensible, dedicated people, performing a vital role.... Andrew might have reflected more on the relationship between the service, ministers and the public. There are also moments when he makes the case for MI5 too enthusiastically.... I regret the gaps, but find it hard to disbelieve much he asserts or denies. Conspiracists may be disappointed by the benignity of some of his conclusions, but his narrative offers a feast for students of intelligence and politics."

For Goulden, Washington Times (18 Dec. 2009) and Intelligencer 17.3 (Winter-Spring 2010), Andrew "[v]ery evenhandedly ... deals with [both] the successes and the glitches of MI5." Given access to MI5's files, "he made good use of the material, for his book is absolutely fascinating." This is "[a] good read." Ehrman, Studies 54.1 (Mar. 2010), calls this "a terrific book, filled with fascinating spy stories, wonderfully eccentric characters, bureaucratic infighting, [and] insights into the development of one of the world's premier domestic security services." It is likely that this "extraordinarily detailed book ... will stand for many years ... as the authoritative account of the service."

Peake, Intelligencer 18.1 (Fall-Winter 2010), calls this "an extraordinarily pleasurable reading experience.... [O]ne cannot but be impressed with the positive magnitude of Professor Andrew's achievement."

Harry Chapman Pincher, "The History of the British Security Service," Intelligence and National Security 25, no. 3 (Jun. 2010): 402-408, attacks what he identifies as Andrew's "five main themes" with regard to the charges that former MI5 Director General Sir Roger Hollis was a Soviet agent. Pincher accuses Andrew and MI5 of "being cavalierly dismissive of the evidence against Hollis." The "Hollis as spy" theme is, of course, a major (perhaps, dominating) aspect of Pincher's writings.

West, IJI&C 23.4 (Winter 2010-2011), is highly critical of Andrew's work, arguing that "whether the assertions and judgments made therein are necessarily supported by the files [MI5's files] is not always clear." The reviewer asks: Is this book "heavily laced with original MI5 material, or is it history of the Security Service spiced with the author's insight?... Andrew gives no assistance in distinguishing between fact and implausible speculation." In the end, "the result is far from satisfactory for those seeking empirical conclusions to some ancient conundrums."

Nicholas Hiley, "Re-entering the Lists: MI5's Authorized History and the August 1914 Arrests," Intelligence and National Security 25, no. 4 (Aug. 2010): 415-452, challenges the version of the August 1914 operation contained in Andrew's Defend the Realm. He argues that the account in the Authorized History is "internally inconsistent," and that "Kell fabricated his most famous victory."

See "A Conversation with Intelligence Historian Christophrt Andrew," Intelligencer 17, no. 3 (Winter-Spring 2010): 39-49. Andrew is interviewed by Katty Kay (BBC), on "The Diane Rehm Show," WAMU Radio, 10 November 2009.


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